France is set to choose its next president – researchers share their hopes


Voting for the French presidential election will begin on April 10.Credit: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty

Next week, French scientists will be among citizens at the polls to begin the process of choosing the country’s next president.

Opinion polls suggest that Emmanuel Macron, of the centrist La République en Marche party, is likely to win the election: in opinion polls, he currently has a lead of around 9% over his nearest rival, Marine Le Pen of the Extreme Right Rally. National.

Macron’s manifesto promises to make research a national priority and to increase the autonomy of universities. “We must continue to encourage basic research and stimulate innovation,” he says. “We will make France the world leader in research on global warming and ecological transition. Some scientists welcome these promises, although others are more skeptical.

Le Pen’s program mentions research in passing, promising to support basic science, research and development, and innovation. The third best performing candidate in the opinion polls, Jean-Luc Mélanchon of the far left La France Insoumise, has pledged to scrap the current ten-year science plan (which is due to run until 2030), increase research budgets and to launch a major plan to build and renovate laboratories and other university facilities.

Before the first ballot on April 10, Nature spoke to three scientists in France about how science fared under Macron’s leadership and their hopes for the future.

Explore other worlds to inspire people

Susan Conway, researcher in planetary sciences in a laboratory co-directed by the University of Nantes and the CNRS.

“I hope that research on space exploration and Earth observation will be a priority for whoever wins the presidential election. Exploring other worlds inspires people and stimulates technological innovations that would otherwise be missed. Satellites have revolutionized our understanding of climate change and enabled rapid responses to hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters.

“Overall, President Macron has been positive for science and has encouraged investment in energy, climate and biomedical research. It does not only focus on research structures perceived as “excellent” – in the past, this focus has poisoned relations between French universities and between researchers. However, research funding in France is very fractured and difficult to manage, even from within. This complexity has delayed research funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I welcome Macron’s plans to promote the space industry and more advanced topics in higher education, if he wins the elections. As a researcher, I would like to see more women in science and a greater great gender equality Overall, I am optimistic about the research ecosystem in France I was born and educated in the UK, but I intend to spend the rest of my career in France, because of the stability and freedom that working at the CNRS gives me.

A decline in research funding

Bruno Canard, research director of a joint CNRS-Aix-Marseille University structural biology laboratory.

“For me, the top priority for the next five years should be the creation of a real ministry of research within the government. The last time we had one was in 2002. Since then, research has merged with higher education, technology or innovation.

“I also want an end to the silent war between French research organizations, such as the CNRS, the biomedical research agency Inserm and the agronomic and environmental research agency Inrae, which depend on different ministries.

Macron emphasizes university autonomy and project-oriented research in his manifesto, but says nothing about the lack of infrastructure and personnel. Public funding for research has continued to decline in real terms and COVID-19 vaccines have been a fiasco. Other countries, including China, have taken the opposite path since the early 2000s by devoting unprecedented resources to research, as they have become aware of its strategic importance on an international scale.

“Despite the erosion of French science over the past 20 years, I remain optimistic. There is a huge demand for science in France, and more and more people understand its role in the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. »

A new roadmap for research?

Bernard Meunier, former president of the Academy of Sciences and Emeritus Research Director at the CNRS chemical coordination laboratory in Toulouse.

“This is the ninth French presidential election since I started working as a scientist in 1970. I still hope that the government will reduce bureaucracy in research institutions such as universities, the National Research Agency ANR , the evaluation agency Hcéres and the general public – research organizations such as the CNRS.A minister of research, Thierry Mandon (who held the post from 2015 to 2017), tried to tackle the problem of bureaucracy, unfortunately without success.

“Another one of my hopes for the next five years is that there will be more funding for blue sky research, which Macron does not quantify in his re-election platform. Early in his term, Macron paid lip service to science and did little about it. This started to change when COVID-19 hit France in early 2020, but there has still not been a massive impact on science funding. France should create a new roadmap for research.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.


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